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Inanity of War and Keeping My Niece Out of It

by George on May 6, 2011

caskets at Dover AFB

An image to remind us of what war means.

Images are powerful things and whether or not the release of the post-mortem photo of Osama will provoke a reaction is less important than people understanding how grotesque war is to begin with.  Perhaps if we were more familiar with the imagery, misery, and costs, we might give a lot more thought to engaging in it in the first place.

Though I’ve thankfully not been exposed to modern warfare directly, I’ve read enough military memoirs and talked to enough veterans to understand it is not something anyone would ever want to be exposed to.  Nor is it an experience anyone would want a loved one to have.  It’s the greatest inanity of the human experience.

I remember being horrified by my niece Lyndsey’s desire to join the U.S. Army right after high school.  While I’m aware that I’m supposed to encourage the patriotic nature of “service,” it is quite an abstract concept when you are keenly aware of what war is and contemplate someone you love being exposed to it.  Since my niece was graduating in the midst of the most mismanaged war in our history (Iraq), my concern was manifest.

Stopping a teenager from doing anything they want to do is often an exercise in futility, but since the stakes were potentially life and death, I was motivated enough to try.

U.S. Marine disfigured by burn injuriesIt took a little while, but I found and accumulated a collection of grisly war photos.  I mean, God bless the Internet, right?  Now you’d think the scenes of mutilated dead bodies would be the ultimate trump card, but since teenagers have no sense of their own mortality these are less effective than you might think.

So, I focused on mutilated live bodies – soldiers that were wounded in action.  The victims missing eyes, missing jaw bones, shredded limbs – these became the currency of persuasion.  Gaping facial wounds and burns – oh, the burns – were face cards in this exercise.  Apparently, although the concept of death is hard for teenagers to comprehend, the concept of being disabled and/or disfigured is not.

Although this morbid review had some effect on my niece, the trump card was a dark thought that came to me when it appeared that scenes of mutilation might not carry the day.  I laid out a scenario where her foray in the military ended when two U.S. Army officers appeared on her father’s doorstep to tell him his daughter was dead.

Facial war woundI asked her to consider how it would feel to destroy her father’s life – to commit him to a dark and listless existence when even the sound of her name would reduce this strong, proud man to a tearful wreck.  I wanted her to imagine her father’s searing screech of anguish when he ultimately learned how violently his little girl had died; how helpless and useless he would feel by failing to somehow protect her from this fate.

Soldier in flamesYes, it was a calculated and manipulative exercise but it did end up keeping my niece out of the military – and I’m not apologizing for it.  Protecting her and my brother from the cruelty of war is not something I’ll ever regret.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Linda J May 8, 2011 at 10:13 am

I breathed a sigh of relief when Lindsey changed her mind; the though of that very sweet girl having to deal with the destructive forces of war would have just been too much for her to bear. Even coming back physically unharmed, I fear that Bob still would have lost a good part of his daughter.


George May 8, 2011 at 1:36 pm

That’s what I was afraid of, too.


Deirdre May 7, 2011 at 12:16 pm

How did her parents take her decision? Did they support your efforts to keep her out?


George May 7, 2011 at 9:52 pm

My brother wanted her to make her own decision – and he didn’t interfere or tilt the scale in any direction. Still, I think he was relieved that she didn’t go, but we’ve never really discussed it. I’ll have to mention it to him and see what he thinks now.


George May 6, 2011 at 9:25 pm

I hope he stays “ok” too!


Jodi May 6, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Everytime the phone rings and I hear my nephews voice, I breathe a sigh of relief and thank God he is ok.


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